The delayed release patterns of the independent distributors have caught up with them on the Spanish film Mad Love. This 2001 drama, which looks like a big romance but is really about the Hapsburg accession to the Spanish throne in the early 16th century, has been sliding slowly down Mongrel's release schedule for a few months. (Mongrel distributes Sony Classics in Canada.)
This is not Mongrel's fault. The indies, theatrically speaking, serve at the majors' pleasure, getting screens when and where they can. Samira Makhmalbaf's Blackboards, which opens next week, has been gathering dust on Mongrel's shelves since Cannes 2001.
In this case, Mad Love arrives in Toronto theatres exactly 18 days before the video release; Columbia-Tri-Star has already delivered the DVD to reviewers.
The Spanish title is Juana La Loca, Joan The Mad, and Mad Love is the story of the daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain (Castile and Aragon, technically). They kicked the Moors out of Spain and bankrolled Columbus's little boat trip. Juana was sent off to Flanders for an arranged marriage to Philip of Austria, after which four or five people died and she became the queen of Castile.
Unfortunately, Phil couldn't keep it in his ruffly shorts, and his infidelities got Joan so ticked off that she was declared insane and confined in a country house, while her son went on to become Charles I of Spain (Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire), whose son Philip II in turn had those unfortunate problems with Elizabeth I.
There's a lot of history in this movie, though not all of it accurate -- historical records report that Joan went mad after Philip died of syphillis at the age of 28.
There's also a lot of art direction. I spent some of the Christmas break watching D.W. Griffith's silent epics Birth Of A Nation and Orphans Of The Storm. As I moved from those old, supposedly archaic pictures to Mad Love, it seemed to me that Vicente Aranda, a veteran Spanish director born in 1926, isn't just speaking the epic with grammar inherited from Griffith, as most epic filmmakers do, but that he could at this late date learn a thing or two about pacing from him.
Griffith wasn't just telling stories, he was inventing the language of cinematic narrative. His films are still better-paced than Mad Love, and Griffith didn't have the benefit of dialogue to move the story along.
Mad Love's not a bad film. Paco Femenia's cinematography has a dark glamour, and Pilar López de Ayala does well with a role that's barely playable as written. (With the exception of a single scene, you can never be quite sure why everyone is claiming that Joan has gone mad.)
Of course, you can wait two weeks and save the $25 cost of two movie tickets by renting it. The DVD has no extras, but it's an excellent firstname.lastname@example.org
MAD LOVE directed and written by Vicente Aranda, produced by Enrique Cerezo, with Pilar Lpez de Ayala, Daniele Liotti and Manuela Arcuri. 118 minutes. A Canal + Spain production. A Sony Classics release through Mongrel Media. Opens Friday (January 10). Rating: NN